The Guide #53: Why are Industry and The Bear TV’s most tense dramas? | Television

Autumn should be a time for cosiness (exorbitant energy prices notwithstanding) and comfort. This year, though, our sadistic TV overlords have decided to make us feel anything but comfortable, dropping two terrific shows into the schedules that are almost ulcer-inducing in their tension.

First up: series two of Industry (Tuesday, BBC; whole series on iPlayer), Mickey Down and Konrad Kay’s tale of young, horny, terminally messed up investment bankers. Anyone who caught the first series will be aware that it has the tendency to be a real nerve-shredder; one episode, in which talented but chaotic graduate Harper gets sucked into a Charybdis of ever-worsening trading floor decisions, had me doubled-over with stress. But even so, series two ups the ante and then some, as a looming reshuffle at Pierpoint & Co sets its employees nerves on edge, while a smiling assassin of a hedge fund manager (Jay Duplass) is busy making moves in the background.

What’s most impressive about Industry is that it manages to make you desperately care for its characters despite them frequently showing themselves to be utter wrong’uns: backstabbers; users; abusers; braying, coke-powered vulture capitalists. Harper (played brilliantly by relative newcomer Myha’la Herrold) is an extreme case in point. Having snuck her way into Pierpoint by faking her grades (call her the Don Draper of the Dow Jones), she seems, as a result, to be permanently trapezing through the world of high finance without a safety net, without a shred of concern for her own – or anyone else’s – wellbeing. And yet, the more reckless and downright amoral she gets, the more you seem to come along with her for the ride, even to the detriment of your own rapidly diminishing fingernails.

Jeremy Allen White as Carmen 'Carmy' Berzatto in FX’s The Bear.
Jeremy Allen White as Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto in FX’s The Bear. Photograph: Matt Dinerstein/FX Networks

Industry is not the only show to have recently reduced me to a puddle of sweat and stomach acid. There’s also The Bear (5 October, Disney+), the much-praised US drama about an award-winning chef’s foolish decision to take over his family’s Chicago sandwich shop. On the face of it, The Bear might not seem like an obvious candidate for the category of high-tension TV. In fact, it’s a pretty pleasant “hang”: there are lots of scenes of chefs shooting the shit; and many gorgeous scenes of mouthwatering food being prepared – beef short ribs, blueberry doughnuts, something called braciola that I MUST EAT RIGHT NOW.

But every now and then, The Bear cranks up the temperature to an excruciating degree. Arguments boil over, orders get missed, debts pile up ever higher, often in the same scene. In the show’s most talked about episode, Review, the tension ratchets up horribly as a lunch service strains to breaking point. The episode is shot in an 18-minute single take (a conceit also adopted this year by the big-screen kitchen drama Boiling Point), which gives it a restless punchdrunk quality. It’s horrible – and horribly watchable.

What is striking about both of these shows is how relatively quotidian the stakes feel. OK, most of us haven’t actioned a multimillion dollar trade or cooked a transformative lemon chicken piccata. But many of us have experienced job insecurity, financial woes, toxic workplaces, that plummeting feeling in the stomach when something goes badly wrong. It’s far easier to feel the chill of recognition in those examples than in, say, that of a White Walker army coming to butcher you and everyone you know. In a TV climate when so many shows operate at a level of life or death, it’s the small things that really set your heart racing.

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